21 February 2012

Blessed Are They Who Mourn

This is the third in the ongoing series of sermons on the Beatitudes.  This one was delivered on Quinquagesima Sunday by Canon William Avis of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest: 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 

Introduction—Vanities of the World This Beatitude is a contradiction to the World 

Frivolity, licentiousness, Mardi Gras! “Vanity of vanities, said Ecclesiastes: vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” [Eccles. 1:2] “I said in my heart: I will go, and abound with delights, and enjoy good things. And I saw that this also was vanity.  Laughter I counted error: and to mirth I said: Why are you vainly deceived?” [Eccles. 2:1-2]  What shall we say, dear faithful, about this contradiction between the worldly and the just, between the disciples of mammon and the followers of Christ?  The world clamors after pleasure, exhilaration and the latest thrill.  The moment someone is unhappy, it gives him a pill. “How can sadness be good?” sneers the world as it adds, “Blessed are certainly not those who mourn! And all who shall rejoice must come to me.” But Christ, the True Light dispelling the darkness of this world, declares to us, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” [Matthew 5:5] and “Woe to you that now laugh: for you shall mourn and weep.” [Luke 6:25] 

1. Of what sadness is this mourning 

“What kind of mourning is here recommended in this beatitude,” asks the reverend Bishop Challoner, “Not worldly sadness of which it is written, Eccles. xxx. 25, 'Sadness hath killed many, and there is no profit in it;' and 2 Cor vii. 10, 'The sorrow of this world worketh death.' Not a sullen melancholy, or any such mourning as is turbulent, or accompanied with the impatient wishes for death, or anxious solicitudes or despondency; but a more calm and peaceful mourning, viz., of compunction for our sins, daily bewailing them in the sight of God, and doing penance for them.” [Meditations]  It often happens that those who leave the world and its sordid pleasures experience some sadness at their apparent loss.  Saint Augustine explains this thus, “Mourning is sorrow arising from the loss of things held dear; but those who are converted to God lose those things which they were accustomed to embrace as dear in this world: for they do not rejoice in those things in which they formerly rejoiced; and until the love of eternal things be in them, they are wounded by some measure of grief.”

“[Christ] designated not simply all that mourn, but all that do so for sins,” expounds Saint John Chrysostom, “Since surely that other kind of mourning is forbidden, and that earnestly, which relates to anything of this life. This Paul also clearly declared, when he said, ‘The sorrow of the world works death, but godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation,’…These then He Himself too calls blessed, whose sorrow is of that kind; yet not simply them that sorrow did He designate, but them that sorrow intensely. Therefore He did not say, they that sorrow, but they that mourn...[And] He bids us mourn, not only for our own, but also for other men's misdoings. And of this temper were the souls of the saints: such was that of Moses, of Paul, of David.”  [Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew] 

2. Penance-How we live this Beatitude 
Helas! What sadness should strike our hearts when we consider the immensity of our own iniquity?  How many tears should pour forth from our eyes at seeing our God, the Supreme Goodness, offended by so many sins? How are we to mourn, so that we may be consoled by God’s gracious mercy?  “Now it belongs to right reason than one should grieve for a proper object of grief as one ought to grieve, and for an end for which one ought to grieve [III q. 85 a 1],” Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches. “Penance is a special virtue not merely because it sorrows for evil done…, but also because the penitent grieves for the sin he has committed, inasmuch as it is an offense against God, and purposes to amend. Now amendment for an offense committed against anyone is not made by merely ceasing to offend, but it is necessary to make some kind of compensation [III q. 85 a 3].” 

We who desire to be comforted by God’s mercy must mourn through acts of penance, to offer Him good works in compensation for the evil that we have committed.  In a few days hence, we will hear from God “Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning [Joel 2:12],” and the great fast of Lent will begin.  It is a time for us to turn back to the Lord lamenting by penitential acts in expiation for sin.  Already today we have an opportunity with the 40 hours devotion which will begin after (the 10 a.m.) Mass to offer reparation to Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament. 

3. Spiritual joy and consolation 

Now if we do mourn and lament over our sins, we shall be comforted. Saint John Chrysostom states: “Wherefore, if you will be comforted, mourn… For when God does comfort, though sorrows come upon you by the thousands like snow-flakes, you will be above them all. Since in truth, as the returns which God gives are always far greater than our labors; so He has wrought in this case, declaring them that mourn to be blessed, not after the value of what they do, but after His own love towards man. For they that mourn, mourn for misdoings, and to such it is enough to enjoy forgiveness, and obtain wherewith to answer for themselves. But forasmuch as He is full of love towards man, He does not limit His recompense either to the removal of our punishments, or to the deliverance from our sins, but He makes them even blessed, and imparts to them abundant consolation.” [Sermons on Saint Matthew]  Truly blessed will we be to receive from Christ comforts which will have no end, and woe to those who seek from the world their ease which one day will perish and be no more. 

Conclusion—towards the world or towards heaven 

My dear faithful, the choice is laid before us either to mourn now in works of penance so that we might rejoice forever, “they that sow in tears shall reap in joy [Ps. 125:5], or to gloat in the hedonisms of this world making that we lament in eternity.  Which will you choose?  Consider this world’s fleeting pleasures that soon will but ash and naught, and would you forfeit the eternal gifts of God for such things as these? Amen.

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